Thursday, October 7, 2010
Dead Poets at Cundy's Harbor
Today is Dead Poets Remembrance Day—the very first Dead Poets' Remembrance Day, in fact. The holiday was started this year (and the date set for October 7, Edgar Allan Poe's death-day), by Walter Skold, a person of staunch mission and wide vision, founder of the Dead Poets Society, who has located and honored the graves of hundreds of poets. Lately I have been thinking a lot about my own grave (more on that in a future post), and I resonate with Walter's emphasis on the importance of poets' graves.
So i was happy to be asked to participate in the kickoff celebration in Maine this year, which I did by reading a poem by Maine poet Celia Thaxter early this morning in a beautiful old meeting house in a town called Cundy's Harbor.
Afterwards, several of us stopped up the street at the graves of another Maine poet, Robert P. Tristram Coffin, winner of the 1936 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and his wife and daughter. We read aloud the poems engraved on each stone and discussed poetry, life, and death as Walter's film team documented the occasion. One among us, a fine lobsterman-poet who had not yet published his work, treated us to a recitation of a couple of his poems—the diction of one of which had been indelibly criticized, many decades ago when the poem was new, by Coffin's sister.
So the thread of poetry and meaning, the still-and-always-thriving oral tradition, the chain of verbal culture, so intimately tied, as this morning proved, with the chain of all human culture and the meaning we continually make, continues. Or, as the president of the Harpswell Historical Society told me this morning, when I commented that the town must have a fascinating history: "every single town, wherever you go, every single one has a fascinating history." And of course he's right. And so does every poet.
For the lobsterman poet (whose name I, alas, didn't catch), Walter read aloud in a resonating voice the final words on Coffin's headstone, a powerful couplet along the lines of, "I kept the age-old law, I wrote what I saw," before driving off with the film crew in in his van, "Dedgar," to visit more graves. Gravespeed to them, and I'll be looking forward to next year's Dead Poets Remembrance Day.